Why don’t futurists offer money back guarantees? Hint: It’s the same reason gambling apps have to say, “Gamble responsibly”. In other words, no matter how much data you crunch or how deep and robust your research methodology is, at some point, you’re making an educated guess and taking a leap of faith.
Which is not to say that watching trends, meaning making and generating insights are fruitless activities – far from it. In fact, we’d argue that this is a critical part of any change or innovation strategy. However, what we’re alluding to is the fact that in an effort to understand change, focusing only on what is changing or might be changing provides an incomplete picture of the entire change landscape.
Of course, trends and technological advances are, by far, the sexiest part of change. They’re new, exciting and often a little bit frightening.
However, over the past few years our research into change has shown us that there are actually 3 Spheres of Change, each of which must be examined and accounted for in order to navigate change successfully. The 3 Spheres of Change are:
- What is Changing
- What needs Changing
- What is Unchanging
The first sphere of change, What is changing, is the realm of the futurist: it is a land of AI stealing your job, of disruption undermining your industry and outsourcing adding to your list of competitors and putting downward pressure on wages growth.
Traditionally, futurists deliver this message with a visual flourish using a funky presentation app like Prezi paired with a blasting techno soundtrack, before they terrify you with a dystopian preview of technology you had no idea existed and then drop the mic without offering any suggestion as to how you might survive in this rather exciting future that you don’t seem to have a place in.
NB: The above description is a little unfair but accurate enough for most business conference attendees to recognise it.
The second sphere of change, What needs changing, is the frontier of the entrepreneur, the innovator, the thought leader and change agent. It is informed by the maxim, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
This second sphere of change at least offers a form of personal agency and power as it encourages us to lead change rather than simply being led.
However, it is the third sphere of change, What is unchanging, that gets the least of our attention and perhaps deserves the most.
Research conducted in 2018, by Merlijn Venus, Daan Stam and Daan van Knippenberg, from the Universities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Drexel University, asserted that if you want people to embrace change, emphasise what will remain the same. In other words, familiarity creates a sense of confidence and competence when it comes to change strategies.
Our own research delivered similar findings. In fact, what we learned about What is unchanging is that it correlates rather nicely with Dr Stephen Covey’s priorities matrix and the Not Urgent but Important quandrant. Similarly, investment in What is unchanging provides a greater sense of control within the other two spheres of change.
So what, if anything, is unchanging and evergreen?
In our research, we tried to identify the skills that have always mattered throughout human history, compared them to those that are most critical today and again with the skills that futurists, economists, educators and business leaders are predicting will remain important in the future, regardless of what technology throws at us. Obviously certain technical skills will come in and out of fashion, but we wanted to know which skills will we always need to master.
We identified 12 Skills that clustered into 3 broad categories.
Firstly, Creative Skills, including an ability to generate new insights from intel, to solve problems in ways we’ve never seen before, to convert raw materials into new formats and to remain cognitively and behaviourally agile.
The second category was Communication Skills, things like influence, engendering trust, an ability to build teams and translate information across different cultures and contexts.
The last category we called Control Skills. These were capabilities such as self-control, an ability to manage resources like time and information, the need to establish social norms, consensus and order and of course an aptitude for implementation – to take action and produce results.
Of course, you might assert that we, like the futurists we’ve cheekily lampooned, are trying to predict the future. And you’re quite right of course.
However, our actual intention is to reframe our view of change to reduce our sense of panic and increase our sense of optimism about the future by looking not only at what is happening outside us but also at what lies inside us.